“While no single piece of evidence of systemically poor standards would suffice on its own to justify the scheme,” the LSB said, “there is sufficient consistency of evidence and concern to warrant a scheme such as that proposed by the application.”
The LSB concluded that the scheme was both “proportionate and targeted”, would provide “consistent and reliable data on the quality of criminal advocacy”, and that the planned review after two years would help to ensure that it continues to do so.
In its decision notice dated 26 July, the LSB noted that it had taken into account the issues raised in unsolicited correspondence, “including views opposing both the necessity of a scheme and the details of the particular scheme proposed”.
“Much of the disagreement,” the LSB said, “about the extent of low standards of criminal advocacy and the risks that this poses stems from the lack of consistent and measurable evidence available under the current arrangements... [W]ithout a quality assurance framework in place, it would be very difficult to find conclusive evidence of quality problems across criminal advocacy.”
Minor adjustments to the scheme Handbook and regulatory arrangements were made following requests for clarification by the LSB. Silks and plea-only advocates remain in the scheme.
Barristers undertaking advocacy in the criminal courts in England and Wales will need to register in three timed phases, according to the circuit in which they primarily practise. However, the circuits voted earlier this year to boycott QASA and pledged not to take criminal advocacy work from those on other Circuits.
Director of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), Dr Vanessa Davies, said that the process has been designed to be as straightforward as possible. “It takes about 10 minutes to register and the two-year evaluation period takes place during a barrister’s normal working routine. Judges have been trained to ensure that they only mark advocates against the QASA competencies and so barristers can be confident of a fair evaluation, which will have no bearing on the outcome of the trial.”
The Handbook, delayed from its June publication date following an LSB extension notice, was published in August (see https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk.qasa). The BSB will run Q&A sessions during September in Bristol, Exeter, Birmingham and Nottingham, and has produced a CPDcast to help barristers “get to grips” with the scheme. (See also Joshua Rozenberg’s examination of QASA, Counsel, July, p 15.)